Contrary to what some may believe I don’t automatically love every romantic comedy that is released. In some ways I think I am a bit pickier than most because I love the genre so much, and I want the movies to be great.
Knowing this it might or might not surprise people I wasn’t as in love with the 2018 Netflix romcom based on the YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as most people seemed to be. I didn’t hate it but I had some issues I will get into. Now we have the sequel To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, which is also based on a novel by Jenny Han. I haven’t read this novel (I had read the original) but I think I actually prefer this sequel over the original film.
My main problem with the original film is I felt Peter, while played with huge charm by Noah Centineo (who I think is going to be a big star), was a pretty bland character. There was no spunk to him. He basically did whatever he was told and agreed to whatever plan was presented to him. One might think of him as a manic pixie dream guy that is only there to help our heroine get out of her shell and nothing more. I like my leading man to have opinions and stand up for himself. It doesn’t always have to be the enemies to friends romantic trope but a little personality is important.
That said I do love a fake relationship plot and the leads were very charming with great chemistry, so I gave the original film a mild recommendation. Now we have the sequel where Peter and Lara Jean are actually dating and in a real relationship. I’m not sure why we needed to interject a love triangle with the also charming John Ambrose played by Jordan Fisher, but Peter got more to do this time around and showed more personality. He wasn’t always the perfect boyfriend, which made him more appealing and swoon-worthy.
We also got some nice moments between Lara Jean and her family. Lana Condor does a nice job in the lead role and Anna Cathcart and John Corbett are lovely as her sister and father respectively. It’s certainly nice to see some diversity in teen movies and the family dynamics will be easy to relate with for adults and teens alike.
On the Hallmarkies Podcast I talk a lot about the value of romantic escapism for women. This isn’t just for old fogies like myself but teenage girls as well. To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You does a good job of fostering this kind of escapism. I used to have movies I called ‘sleepover movies’, which were usually silly romantic films I would watch with my friends at sleepovers (or should it be sleepunders as we didn’t sleep much?). Some of my favorites were films like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Princess Bride, Ever After, The Cutting Edge, Some Kind of Wonderful, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and Dirty Dancing, .
With this sequel, the To All the Boys series definitely cements itself as the sleepover movies of this decade for teens. They are charming, escapist romantic stories, and this sequel makes me like the original even more. So go get your friends together, have a sleepover and watch a fun movie!
I always like to have a little bit of variety on this Blind Spot project and this month we are going back to 1945 and taking a look at the romantic drama Brief Encounter.
Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter tells a simple story of 2 strangers that meet in a train station ‘refreshment room’ and become fascinated with each other. Then they meet several more times until a relationship develops. Unfortunately with them both being married they cannot pursue their love so it is doomed to remain unrequited.
Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and he, with cinematographer Robert Krasker, do a stunning job crafting this film. The black and white photography is beautiful with great use of shadows and light. You feel an intimacy with the couple like you are somehow eavesdropping on their conversations instead of watching a movie. It kind of reminded me of the Before Sunrise movies in that regard. I think it also helps that we don’t have traditional movie stars in the lead roles but more ordinary looking humans. It makes their connection feel more grounded and real.
If you are worried this is a movie that justifies cheating, it doesn’t. In fact, the ending with Laura and her husband is actually quite touching. It’s just a moment between two people and that’s it. If it was made today it would probably be tawdry and tasteless but here it strikes just the right note.
My only flaw with Brief Encounter is it is perhaps too brief. They go from strangers bumping into each other to declaring their undying love very quickly. In that sense, it feels a little hard to believe. We understand why Laura is tempted by a new and exciting love but are not entirely sure why this love with Alec fits that bill. I wish there were a few more scenes where we got to know both of them more and could understand their connection better.
That said, I definitely recommend checking out Brief Encounter. It is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel which is a service I highly recommend. They not only have great films but tons of special features on most of the films.
(Also David Lean is such an incredible director. It’s hard to believe the person who made this also directed Lawrence of Arabia!)
The great thing about the Blind Spot project is you get to catch up on movies of great acclaim you missed out on when they were first released. Sometimes I end up loving the film in question and other times I’m left scratching my head at why the film is so beloved. This month’s movie, Garden State, I must admit is the latter experience. I was looking forward to it because I love quirky romances but it just did not do it for me at all.
Garden State is written and directed by Zach Braff and he plays a young man named Andrew who returns home to New Jersey (hence the title) to attend his Mother’s funeral. While there he becomes reacquainted with his childhood friends including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a perpetually high grave digger who steals jewelry from the people he buries. I know the playful shenanigans of the these stoners is supposed to be charming but I found it very boring and repetitive. I get it. They get high a lot. Let’s move on…
Then Andrew meets a young lady named Sam (Natalie Portman) who is a compulsive liar but only in the ways that make her adorable and precocious. I think her character literally created the term ‘manic pixie dream girl’. This would all be fine if they gave her anything interesting to do or say (ala Summer in 500 Days of Summer). Portman and Braff have decent chemistry but I just was not interested in their characters or anything that happened to them.
The best thing about Garden State is the soundtrack featuring bands like Cold Play, The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel and more. That is definitely worth checking out. The rest of the movie you can give a pass too. It was definitely not for me.
As a serious devotee of cinema one of the things I get a bit of clack for is my love for romantic movies- particularly romcoms. I am an unabashed fan. I even recently started a new podcast with my friend Amber where we review the Hallmark Movies which are pretty much all romances (we are having an absolute blast by the way). It’s a new channel so if you are interested we could use new subscribers! Anyway in honor of the podcast I thought I would share with you some romantic films that I enjoy, which are often hated on (hate may be too strong of a word but you get the idea).
In no particular order
Everyone knows I especially love a good romantic Christmas movie and Last Holiday definitely fits the bill. Queen Latifah is warm and lovely as a woman named Georgia who finds out she has a month to live, so she decides to start living her dreams. This includes staying at a fancy hotel in Europe, eating good food instead of Lean Cuisine and buying the prettiest party dress.
LL Cool J plays her co-worker who is impressed with both versions of Georgia and they have terrific chemistry.
Romeo + Juliet
I honestly might like this film even better than Moulin Rouge. I enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s creative take on Shakespeare. He obviously gives it is his own flair but the core story remains in tact. The production design is great and the Shakespeare manages to feel natural.
Most importantly Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio have fantastic chemsitry and the supporting cast including Brian Dennehy and John Leguizamo are great.
No Strings Attached
In 2011 two films came out that dealt with casual relationships. I prefer No Strings Attached. This is directed by Ivan Reitman and it has his charm and engaging scripts. I find myself laughing out loud throughout the film. My favorite parts are when Adam is trying to impress Emma and he makes her a period cd full of songs like Bleeding Love. That always makes me laugh.
It’s no secret that Ashton Kutcher is not the greatest actor but I honestly think he is fine in this and Natalie Portman has never looked sexier in a film. This is a fairly strong R rating but I like it. Mindy Kaling is fun as her roommate.
A Walk in the Clouds
Like Ashton Kutcher, Keanu Reeves is also not the greatest actor in the world especially when he is trying to be sincere; However, there is so much else going for A Walk in the Clouds that I can deal with his performance. Directed by Alfonso Arau this movie looks gorgeous with vineyard cinematography and intimate camera work. I love all the other performances including Aitana Sanchez-Gijonb and Giancarlo Giannini as Reeves’ pretend wife and her strict father.
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton
Is this movie loaded with contrivances? Sure but at its heart are 3 good people who I want to see happy. I will put up with so many contrivances if a romance can give me that. Plus, I love Topher Grace. He is perfect in this role and Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel are great too. Charming, charming, charming!
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
I admit there may be a bit of nostalgia in this pick. This is a very sugary romance from 90s about a blind girl who becomes a horse diver despite the odds. It’s cheesy but I love Gabrielle Anwar and Michael Schoeffling. She is stunning and they have great chemistry. It’s a breezy 88 minutes and I love it!
Some Kind of Wonderful
I admit this one is a bit of a cheat as a lot of people like this movie but I feel like it is constantly overshadowed by Breakfast Club and 16 Candles and I like this better than both those films. It is fairly predictable story but underneath that plot are 3 very well written and acted characters. I particularly like Lea Thompson’s Amanda who should be the cliched judgy popular girl but she’s not. She has a personality and makes interesting choices. The chemistry between Watts and Keith is so strong. I love it!
The Rewrite was one of my favorite movies from 2014 and everyone I have shown it to has also liked it. It’s the kind of movie we never get any more but it’s really well executed. Hugh Grant is in top form as a screenwriter who is demoted to a teaching position in a small town. It has something to say about love, work, writing, movies, stories and more. The cast is tremendous with Allison Janney, JK Simmons, Marisa Tomei and more. It’s funny, thoughtful and sweet.
The Longest Ride-
This is probably my toughest sale of this post but I will try. Most Nicholas Sparks movies are awful because they are so emotionally manipulative usually killing off a major character just to make you cry. In The Longest Ride they don’t do that! They get close but then don’t do that. I liked Britt Robertson and Scott Eastman in this. They have great chemistry. I liked seeing them work out their differing career ambitions and I also liked the older couple played by Alan Alda, Jack Huston, and Oona Chaplin. I get why many don’t like it but I enjoyed it.
Some romances soar on the chemistry of its stars. Such is the case with Serendipity. Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack are so great together and I like them both so much that I enjoy going on this silly ride with them. The whole cast is actually solid with Molly Shannon, Jeremy Piven, John Corbett, Eugene Levy and more. New York never looked better and it’s easy for me to get swept away in the romance.
Another underseen romance from Queen Latifah on this list. She is beautiful in this film and is a nice contrast to the stunning but vapid Paula Patton (yet still likable in a kind of unlikable role). Latifah and Common have great chemistry and it’s another romance where we like both of them and want to see them happy.
The things that separate them are somewhat contrived but I was invested enough to not care.
Beautician and the Beast-
I suppose this film is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I know it is super contrived but I still enjoy it. Timothy Dalton is hilarious as the uptight dictator and I’ve always loved Fran Drescher. In fact, The Nanny is one of my favorite shows ever and this is basically a movie version of The Nanny. They have decent chemistry and it makes me laugh. Beauty and the Beast combined with Fran- what more could you ask for? LOL
So there you have it- my list of romantic films which aren’t appreciated enough. What about you? What are some romances you like that most people don’t? I’d love to hear your list. Thanks!
I’ll just say it- I love a good romance movie and we don’t get that many satisfying ones these days. Most are either of the 50 Shades/Unforgettable variety or the Nicholas Sparksian mold. It is with this in mind that I share with you my positive response to the recent teen romance- Everything, Everything. My niece loved the book and while I haven’t read it yet I intend to because I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
A movie like this depends largely on the chemistry of the lead couple and the believability of their journey together. In Everything, Everything Amandla Stenberg stars as Maddy a young girl with an autoimmune disease that forces to stay inside her house all the time. One day she meets through the window her next door neighbor Olly played by Nick Robinson and they become friends.
The film is very clever with how it stages their initial interactions. Of course, it is texts and emails but it feels intimate and real and the two actors have terrific chemistry. Director Stella Meghie did a great job staging the interactions in an authentic way and the screenplay avoids too much melodrama.
I kept waiting for the story to go off the rails with an evil person thwarting young love or a dramatic cancer diagnosis but it was more subtle than that. I am sure some critics will say it is predictable and cheesy but I think it could have gone way more off the rails many times. It worked for me.
The only real flaw I had with it was one character gets off the hook a little too easily but that wasn’t a huge problem. I also appreciate that them being a mixed race couple wasn’t brought up once. They were just teens in love, as it should be.
There isn’t much else to say except I really liked it. Great chemistry, well shot and the emotional manipulation feels very gentle for this kind of movie. I think if women go with their girlfriends they will have a great time. My friend who went with me had a great time also so it’s not just me.
Overall Grade- B+
As far as content there is one scene of sensuality but it is pretty tame.
Spoilers! I put in the title my feelings on the film and I strongly encourage you to not support Me Before You. But I will be talking spoilers in this review if you do decide to see it. You’ve been warned. I wasn’t going to see Me Before You because I hated the book. We read it for book club last October and I found it extremely manipulative and disturbing. My goodreads review is here but I will share with you some highlights:
“I’m sorry but I thought this book was terrible. It was like a Nicholas Sparks novel but more incompetently written”
“The dialogue was cringe worthy.The story was something you’d see on a bad soap opera but without the campy fun those can have”
“The ending was unpardonable…I am strongly against assisted suicide but usually when it is argued it is people who have a terminal illness. Not a man who has special needs but openly admits to being able to live a perfectly happy life. That’s called regular suicide”
Yep, it sucked as a book, so how is it as a movie?
It does some things better. Author and now screenwriter Jojo Moyes does a better job with the dialogue in the film than in the book. It’s still trite and obvious but there were a few laughs, a few genuine moments.
Also she makes the supporting characters, particularly Lou’s family and sister and Will’s family much better characters. In the book Lou’s family are judgemental and awful and Will’s family are kind of dumb.
I also thought the chemistry between Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin was decent and I don’t mind that the building romance between them is predictable.
“Actually, the book is about a quadriplegic who wants to die, and at the end of the book chooses to do so – despite the fact that he found love and had a loving and supporting family, and so had an amazing opportunity to live a full and flourishing life. He was, after all, as rich as is a bottle of fine whiskey, and could have afforded any number of compensations to manage life with a disability– unlike most quadriplegics who are poor, but still choose to live.
So let’s not beat around the bush. This is a book celebrating suicide. Worse, it’s a book that presumes that suicide is the only rational response to the experience of living with quadriplegia”
The lead character in the novel and film, Will Traynor, used to be a big athletic stud and in an accident is now a quadriplegic. He is depressed about his new body and tells his parents he is going to undergo “assisted suicide” if you can call it that in 6 months.
The parents hire local manic pixie dream girl Lou to cheer him up and of course she’s nutty and wears cooky clothes. And of course he hates her at first but darn if she isn’t just so charming.
Eventually she makes his life worth living but that’s not enough for him. He still decides to go through with the suicide because she would eventually grow to regret him. And then he gives her his inheritance so she can go “live well” without him!
I’m sorry but I find that extremely offensive.
Again I quote from Mr Clifton:
“Now, before you get on your high horse and remind me that some people do choose to die, and that’s their right, let me say that I understand that quadriplegia is downright hard to live with, and many people have it much harder than I do. And the person that chooses suicide has my compassion and support.
But I’m not going to celebrate that choice.”
My best friend has been horribly impacted by suicide and it is not the dramatic moving finale to a love story. I’m sorry. When it is chosen as an end to pain and suffering it is typically by someone who has a terminal illness. Not someone who is seen enjoying time at the beach days before the deed is done.
The book is even worse because Lou’s mother states her natural objections to the plan and she is treated like a complete jerk. Here that is only briefly mentioned. There is no room within the story to disagree with the choices. That’s what makes it especially manipulative.
What I find amazing is never once is Will shown what good he can do with his life, especially with how rich he is. He could be such an inspiration to those with disabilities. He could start a foundation and share his experiences with the world. No, he’s just taken to a classical music concert and told that should make him want to live! He’s given no objectives or life goals so of course he feels that life without all the ‘fun’ he used to have is meaningless.
Also, why does he have to stay away from work? That is made a big deal of in the movie. His coworkers are getting married and talking about their fancy careers. He couldn’t sit behind a desk and make calls at least part time? I mean the situation they set him in seems ridiculous when you really think about it. He’s more bored than anything else.
They throw in that he keeps getting pneumonia and has pain but again is suicide really the answer? Even those who aren’t religious I can’t understand endorsing suicide as a valid option for Will.
It’s just an example of how little questions this film asks. It states a situation- Will wants to die because he is a quadriplegic but they dont properly debate all angles of that situation. In the world of this movie suicide is a valid, even moving life choice that Will should be allowed to make as a gift to his family. It’s awful stuff
They even passed out little packages of tissues at my screening. No thank you! I would have rather had a megaphone so I could yell at the screen!
It’s downright dangerous this film and I really was offended by it. Sure it looks glossy and has pretty people in it but the message is horrible.
I would not have gone to see Me Before You if it hadn’t been a free screening. Please don’t support this film. It’s offensive to those with disabilities and it should be offensive to us able-bodied folks too. Life is precious and just because you have great challenges doesn’t mean your story is over. Why not celebrate the unique opportunities available to the disabled and the new purpose it can give you?
In addition, it’s just not that good of a movie. It’s a dopey romance at best with like I said the classic manic pixie dream girl character.
I’ll end with Dr Clifton’s final words:
I hope that you notice that it reinforces the stereotype that women need a man to tell them what to do, and that you understand that our playboy hero is really a privileged white guy who just can’t come to terms with the fact that life is fragile and difficult but that if you fight the good fight and persevere it’s worth it in the end.
I give Me Before You a D- because I think it did improve upon the book a little bit but it’s awful. DON’T SEE IT!!!